As I mentioned in Part 1 of My Disney Adventure, I rushed to reserve transportation and accommodations at the last minute without planning ahead. This is not recommended.
If I had done some research, I might have found a more eco-friendly place to stay. Instead, I went for availability and price, booking a room at the Alamo Inn & Suites on Katella Ave simply because it had the best rates through Hotels.com.
On the plus side, the hotel is located just across the street from Disneyland, so no driving is required to get to the park. As far as I can tell, that is the only environmental plus. And since there are so many other hotels also within walking distance, there’s sure to be another with a better eco-philosophy.
Now, here are a few negatives:
- Coffee service in the lobby with Styrofoam cups and plastic stirrers.
- Plastic drinking cups in the room.
- Plastic-lined waste cans in the rooms and no means of recycling.
- Plastic packets of shampoo and lotion in the room. And even though we never opened and used the packets, each day the staff brought us more!
- Old air conditioning units in the walls that had to be run continuously in order to keep the room from becoming an oven.
We tried to gather recyclables (newspapers, tourist info, glass bottles) in a paper bag and find a place to recycle them, but while we were out, the cleaning staff threw out our bag with the rest of the garbage, even though we hadn’t put it in the waste can. When I asked the hotel desk clerk if there was a way to recycle or if items from guest waste cans are separated out for recycling, she helpfully answered, “No. We just dump it all out.”
After that incident, I resolved to save any recyclables in my backpack and bring them back to Oakland. As it turns out, I could have taken them into Disneyland with me. Disneyland is one of the few businesses in Anaheim with a robust recycling program. In fact, there are bins for paper and bottles throughout the park. I’ll talk more about Disneyland’s environmental pluses and minuses in my next post.
So how could I have found a more pro-environment hotel beforehand? Fortunately, there’s a great site, Environmentally Friendly Hotels.Com, which is an ongoing database of hotels throughout the world rated using a checklist of 33 environmental criteria. Users can browse the site to look for hotel ratings, and they can also post reviews and add listings to the database.
Looking at the Anaheim page, it turns out that the hotels in Disneyland itself are the most eco-friendly. Unfortunately, they are also out of my price range. But I could have used the checklist itself as a guide for what to ask before making a reservation. There are many more hotels in Anaheim than are listed on this site. The site also offers a form that you can print out and take with you to evaluate a property during your stay.
Eating healthfully and plastic-free was another challenge. Anaheim, Orange County for that matter, consists of street after street of fast food and chain restaurants. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many McDonald’s restaurants in one place. There is a Farmer’s Market in Anaheim, but it only operates on Thursday mornings. We arrived on Friday.
So our first night, Michael and I found a Vons Supermarket (part of the Safeway chain) and purchased produce and bread, which we stored in the small refrigerator in our room. Being a little disoriented from traveling, I left my backpack, which always contains a supply of reused plastic bags, in the hotel, so we were going to need a paper bag. Little did we know, Vons in Anaheim does not have paper grocery bags anymore! Plastic is the only option offered at the checkout counter. Michael was preparing to carry everything out in his shirt, when we spied some thin paper bags near the bakery case, which were meant for bread and bagels. They did the job for us. Next time I’ll remember to bring my own bags, I swear!
One ecologically-friendly option is Native Foods, a vegan restaurant, but you have to drive thirteen miles to Costa Mesa to eat there. It was on our way to the beach on Saturday, so we stopped in. Native Foods is located in a shopping complex called The Camp, which is a mix of outdoor stores, natural product retailers, and unique restaurants set among native plant gardens and outdoor gathering places. It’s a tiny bit of “green” in Orange County. A very tiny bit.
Up the street from our hotel was a little Mexican restaurant called Tacos Mi Pueblo, where I had some of the best vegetarian burritos of my life. I’m sure the secret ingredient must have been lard. But I felt better eating there than at the chains because the food was authentic and the restaurant small and locally-owned. I did end up with a couple of straws when I wasn’t paying attention.
I’ve found that my main challenge for remaining plastic-free while eating in restaurants is remembering to specify, “no straw.” In take-out places where everything is served in disposable containers, it’s not hard to remember to specify, “no lid, no straw,” and if I’m getting a cold coffee drink, “paper cup.” But in a sit-down restaurant where everything on the table is made from durable materials, those ubiquitous straws leap out of nowhere and catch me with my guard down. If the straw is still wrapped in paper, I can send it back. But if the server has kindly unwrapped it for me, I’m screwed.
While I’m pretty happy drinking without a straw, I realize it’s sometimes easier to use one. Especially for cold drinks with ice. For those who really want to use a straw, there are plastic-free options:
- Stainless steel drinking straws. If you can carry your own reusable water bottle and cutlery, why not carry your own reusable straws?
- Biodegradable Straws. These are made from cornstarch. If it were me, I’d opt for a reusable product over a disposable one, but biodegradable is better than plastic.
- Paper Straws, the old-fashioned kind. If you want a bit of nostalgia, you can still find paper straws in antique shops for a pretty price.
- Paper drinking straws, the new kind. Aardvark, the company that invented paper drinking straws, is still making them. Now, however, the straws are coated with something that makes them waterproof. I don’t know what the coating is, so I’m not recommending them until I find out. I did send an e-mail to the company and will let you know when I hear back.
I guess the main idea I want to stress when it comes to reducing plastic waste while staying in hotels or dining out is to plan ahead. Whether traveling or at home, I find I run into the biggest challenges when I haven’t planned what I’ll eat and where and haven’t left the house prepared. Being tired and hungry makes me much less mindful about what I’m consuming. Procrastination seems to be plastic’s best friend.